Tag Archives: Grief

Mr Right and the elusive escalator of life

I love this song – James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful. I heard it on the radio this morning as I was getting dressed, and it has haunted me all day long. I can’t stop listening to it.

The “story” in the song is that the man sees a beautiful woman in the crowd, she smiles, they make an instant connection, but she is with another man and he accepts that he will never see her again. Yet, he says, “we shared a moment that will last till the end”.

Sometimes, as I am going down an escalator at an underground station, on my way to work, I like to observe the upward flow of people on the other escalator. I look at each face coming up, man, woman, child, old people, young people, and I like to imagine what they are thinking, what must be going on in their lives, what preoccupations may be on their minds.

I wonder if there are any lucky people who actually meet beautiful strangers in such crowds and end up falling in love?

I have seen dating website adverts at London underground stations using this escalator imagery, presumably because it is a very good example of strangers passing by other strangers day by day, without realising their right match might have just walked past.

They say every Jack has his Jill but is there really such a thing as a predestined Mr. or Miss Right, or are matches time-specific, and certain people happen to be right for us only at a specific point in life?

Right person, wrong time
One of my favourite love stories of all times is that of my friend and former colleague Silvia*, who, eight years ago re-met an ex-boyfriend, whom she had not seen or heard from for more than 20 years. They had been a couple in their youth but ended up going their separate ways, as they could not agree on what they wanted out of the relationship. They each went on to marry someone else and, unbeknownst to each other, later divorced their respective spouses roughly around the same time.

Now in their 60s, they are together again, in love and happy, changed by their life experiences into a better man and a better woman.

So…they were always right for each other, but not at the time their paths first crossed.

Like a child with its favourite bed-time story, I love to hear Silvia* tell me her tale again and again. It comforts me no end to know that, should I have already met my Mr. Right, he may re-appear again, later in life, when we are both finally ready for it.

On other days I ask myself what if there is someone special out there, in the crowd, who really cares, and I am missing the moment and the opportunity to connect with them because I am too lost in my own thoughts, too busy lamenting over past broken dreams that cannot be put together again.

Li/oving in the now
“How wonderful and awkward it is to be single again”, is what I said to Silvia* the other day. Wonderful because there are so many unopened doors yet to be revealed, many escalator journeys to be taken, up and down; awkward because there is no other way of truly connecting nor re-connecting with another human being without coming to terms with your insecurities and innermost fears, in other words, wearing your vulnerability on your sleeve.

I have noticed with gratitude that, since I launched this blog, something has shifted inside me. I have been living less in the past and more and more in the now. I still spend a lot of time thinking about the past; there are people and places from happier times I miss so much it hurts to remember. But, somewhere in my consciousness, there is a growing awareness that recognises I am actually choosing to suffer by holding on to past stories because I am reluctant to let go of the feelings of love and security associated with them.

I have previously blogged about grief. When a loved one dies, physically or metaphorically, isn’t the real reason you grieve for so long because you are afraid of losing the connection with that person by letting go of the pain?

If a shared moment can last forever, as James Blunt sings in You’re Beautiful, should that not suffice? It must be possible to go on loving without the suffering.

I am no Buddha. This I have yet to achieve.

Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven

(from Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton)

[*Silvia is not her real name]

Because I mourn…

I read a Julian Barnes book for the first time this year. Despite being into literary fiction, I always thought Barnes was too highbrow for me. But I discovered Levels of Life, his latest work, while browsing at my favourite Kentish Town bookshop and came across a passage that so resonated with me, I decided to buy it just to be able to re-read it at home.

In the third and last part of the book, Barnes talks poignantly about how he still struggles with the grief over the loss of his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, who died in 2008. Thirty years ago, in one of his novels, Barnes had to imagine and describe the feelings of grief of a widowed character in his sixties; only to be surprised by the accuracy of his words, when his own turn came.

Here is an excerpt:

“…Afterwards comes the madness. And then the loneliness: not the spectacular solitude you had anticipated, not the interesting martyrdom of widowhood, but just loneliness.You expect something almost geological – vertigo in a shelving canyon – but it’s not like that ; it’s just misery as regular as a job… [People say] you’ll come out of it…And you do come out of it, that’s true. But you don’t come out of it like a train coming out of a tunnel, bursting through the Downs into sunshine and that swift, rattling descent to the Channel; you come out of it as a gull comes out of an oil slick; you are tarred and feathered for life.”

Often the loss of a loved one, even if they are alive, can also feel like death, and the dark times that follow like one long mourning you may or may not come out of. The loss of dreams can be another form of death, the letting go of something that could have been and now will never be.

I have lost many of both.

What if there is a yet unrevealed alternative path to happiness you had not envisaged? We all live in conviction that the happy ending we had foreseen for ourselves was the only ending possible. Once the script is changed, and we realise it cannot be achieved, we struggle to accept any other.

In Levels of Life, Barnes asks the “unanswerable question: what is ‘success’ in mourning? Does it lie in remembering or in forgetting? A staying still or a moving on? Or some combination or both?”

I reckon the intensity of one’s grief is always in direct proportion to the intensity of the love there once was. That is why while I feel for Barnes’ suffering, I also envy him for having known such a great love even death cannot obliterate.

The intensity of a love that transcends our earthy existence; to be able to love and be loved in this undying manner – does it exist, and, if it does, can there be anything more rewarding in life?

This reminds me of German singer Herbert Grönemeyer‘s Der Weg. Grönemeyer, a widower, wrote the song with his late wife in mind and the love they shared. The ending words always make me crumble:

Habe dich sicher / I have you safe
In meiner Seele / Inside my soul
Ich trag dich bei mir / I’ll carry you with me
Bis der Vorhang fällt / Until the curtain falls

Ich trag dich bei mir / I’ll carry you with me
Bis der Vorhang fällt / Until the curtain falls

Sometimes, Barnes says, “you want to go on loving the pain.”

Well, I say, sometimes you just need to go on loving. Until the curtain falls.